Pamela Ki Mai Chen, confirmed by the US Senate on March 4 as a federal judge in the Brooklyn-based Eastern District of New York, is the second Chinese-American woman and the third out lesbian to assume a lifetime seat on the judiciary.
Among lesbian jurists, Chen, a graduate of the University of Michigan and Georgetown Law School, is preceded by Deborah Batts and Alison Nathan, both of whom serve in New York’s Eastern District, based in Manhattan. Like Chen, Nathan was appointed by President Barack Obama, while Batts was named by President Bill Clinton.
The president appointed both Chen and Nathan on the recommendation of New York’s senior senator, Democrat Chuck Schumer, who also recommended the appointment of J. Paul Oetken, who in 2011 became the first out gay man to win confirmation to a seat on a federal district court bench. Oatken also sits on New York’s Southern District Court.
Chen, the daughter of immigrants from China, worked in private practice until joining the Justice Department in 1991, where she eventually worked in the Civil Rights Division during an eight-year tenure. Since moving to New York in 1998, she has worked as chief of the Civil Rights Section’s Criminal Division in the Eastern District US Attorney’s Office and as the deputy commissioner for enforcement in the New York State Division for Human Rights.
In a written statement, Schumer said, “Ms. Chen’s wealth of experience and devotion to public service make it clear that she will be an excellent judge. Ms. Chen has proven time and again that she is a leader and a pioneer in the legal field. I have every confidence that she will serve her jurisdiction well.”